Last week I aired out my initial thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Wii U. I was eager to get those thoughts out in part to ease my own excitement. But I also wanted to see how my thoughts after a few hours of playing would compare to my thoughts after dozens of hours. Lots of reviewers have said Breath of the Wild is the best Zelda game of all time. In a lot of ways I agree, but what makes a Zelda game a Zelda game?
This is the first truly open world Zelda since 1986. Breath of the Wild is also different because there’s more space and something to find just about every few seconds. You can basically skip the story entirely with enough determination. Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Wind Waker…none of them have the same soul as Breath of the Wild. And that’s not a bad thing.
Breath of the Wild takes every ounce of 3D Zelda linearity and throws it out the window. Instead of giving you a series of tasks, it gives you a few guidelines on what you’re doing. Then it tells you to travel to every corner of the map. And pick up eveything. And take pictures of everything.
This is a massive change. So massive that there’s really no point in comparing Breath of the Wild to any other Zelda games except for a few of the same basic tropes. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun with a game since Twilight Princess.
Every issue I’ve had with the game had ended up resolved, because a huge community has formed around this game already. The fastest ways to get rupees, strategies for bosses, recipes, and interesting locations are turning up every day. This game contains all the silliest, coolest, and most creative gameplay moments in all of Zelda. It’s all thanks to this approach of giving the player several ways of approaching every situation. The use of physics alone has hugely broadened the player’s input on how they experience the game. Breath of the Wild is a playground with a Zelda face on it. In fact, if this game had completely different characters and equipment, it would be unrecognizable as Zelda.
I can see how this would rub lots of people the wrong way. This game isn’t nearly as clean as other Zelda games. It’s really difficult to work out early on, and breakable equipment means everything is fleeting. You have to rely on your own wit more than in other Zelda games. It’s a big change, as I said before, and change doesn’t always come easily. Personally, though, I think this game is an escalation of an already great series.
The story is more engaging not only because it has good characters, but because you have to work for it. The Master Sword is a better prize now that you’re not required to find it. The game didn’t build me up, I built myself up. I fail a lot. Sometimes I get frustrated, but that’s part of the joy. This game makes a triumphant return to the spirit of exploration and wonder that’s at the root of Zelda. You obtain rupees, hearts, stamina, and items through exploration. Then you use them to explore even more.
I don’t know whether or not this is the “best Zelda game of all time.” It’s a different beast entirely. But I don’t hesitate to call it great.